Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mercy and Richard

Continuing with the family history on my mother's side of the family, we get to my grandparents, Mercy and Richard. Mercy was the eldest of six children born to John and Sophie Brown, whom I wrote about in my previous post. Of the other five of my grandmother's siblings, I only knew Uncle Arthur (who died when I was quite young) and Aunt Amy, a true eccentric in my childhood. Here is a photo of the two of them, with my grandmother Mercy in the middle:
Aunt Amy never married but she had an elderly male "companion" with whom she traveled all over the world. There was some story about how she was his employee, or was helping him with some project or other .... but family tongues were wagging, albeit quietly because in those days one did not talk about scandal outloud. But it was most unseemly for her to be an unmarried woman traveling alone with a man. Tsk!

Speaking of tongues wagging, Aunt Amy could talk a blue streak. When she was around she dominated the conversation and it was impossible to get a word in edgewise. We would laugh as we watched her race through a long paragraph, gasp for breath, and continue on with the next paragraph as if it were a competition sport and she was going for the gold medal in chatterboxing!

My grandmother, Mercy, was raised mostly around Shawnee, Pennsylvania. She attended the typical country school house, and then eventually went to a variety of colleges. As she explained it, "I finished high school and then my father sent me to Pennsylvania State College in 1889. I fully expected to finish my college work there but a minister's salary was small in those days and with four other children to educate, I did not finish...... We moved to Gettysburg next. While we were there, Addie, Arthur and I all attended the Lutheran College..... We completed that year, then went back to Stroudsburg where our father preached for two years. During that time Addie went to [Mount] Holyoke College, Arthur went to Lafayette and I stayed home..... In 1894 we moved to New Haven, Conn., so that Arthur could go to Yale and later to the Law School. Addie was at Holyoke ...... I entered Boardman to take the manual training courses. It was a new school and I enjoyed the wood-carving, sewing, cooking and all kinds of art work. I graduated from there the same year that Arthur graduated from Yale. In 1899 Addie went to Drexel to study Library Science, and I also went to Drexel to study Domestic Science. Addie graduated in 1900 and I in 1901."

In New Haven, the Browns met the Whitfield family, who had recently moved there from North Carolina. Fannie Whitfield became a good friend of Mercy's, and introduced her to her brother, Richard. They were married in September 1902. It is fascinating to me at this juncture the Whitfield's slave-owning history crossed paths with the Brown's slave-sheltering history, and the two of them somehow found each other and fell in love. I wonder if they talked about this and whether it held any particular resonance for them.

Richard, my grandfather, suffered from poor health. He had typhoid fever and was hospitalized for 7 weeks when their first baby, Hallock, was fairly new. His recuperation was slow and my grandmother supported the family by raising and canning fruits and jams, selling eggs, milk, butter, cottage cheese and cream from the small farm where they lived. In 1909 my mother, Alice, was born (third child of five) and the family bought a small grocery business in Allamuchy, New Jersey. There were living quarters upstairs, which my grandmother said were "far from either ideal or adequate. It took real courage to face the task of making a home with such primitive conditions. Our only light was a couple of kerosene lamps and there was no heat except a coal stove in the kitchen. Our water was pumped in the kitchen sink and heated in a tank on the back of the stove". Here they lived for 14 years, and the last of their five children were born there. Little by little they improved the place. Here's a photo of my grandparents, Mercy Brown and Richard Whitfield. I'll write more about them in the next post.
And here's a photo of them with four of their five children during the early years when they were living above the Allamuchy store. My mother, Alice, was in the center, the blond girl with the big bow in her hair.

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